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Ukrainian soldiers on a US concert tour will perform in Kalamazoo Sunday

Three women are working around a table organizing a display.  From left to right, Svetlana Stone clasps her hands together. She wears red pants, a blue thin-striped shirt, and a watch with a white band. Her blonde hair is pulled back in a low bun and sunglasses sit on top of her head.  Next to her is Mary Zwart, in a long-sleeved pink blouse and blue jeans and short light brown hair, she shuffles through some concert promotional materials.  On the other side of the table is Maira Bundža.  She wears a white shirt and light blue pants that are partially obscured by a concert poster. She is placing a promotional item on the table.
Leona Larson
Svetlana Stone, left, event organizer, organizes concert promotional materials with Mary Zwart (middle) and Maira Bundža at the Second Reformed Church in Kalamazoo. The Ukrainian soldiers will give a concert at the church Sunday evening, following an afternoon performance at the Latvian Center.

Billed as the “Music Tour of Gratitude to America,” five Ukrainian soldiers who were professional musicians in peacetime will give two concerts this weekend.

They were professional singers and musicians. Then, in 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, and they became soldiers.

For two years they’ve put their careers on hold so they could fight for Ukraine. Some now bear wounds.

“Look at their eyes,” said Svetlana Stone, a Kalamazoo artist from Latvia who helped organize the local concerts.

“Listen to their music and try to understand what they are going through and feel what they feel.”

The 40-day musical tour of the United States is sponsored by Cultural Forces, the cultural division of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The group will stop in Kalamazoo between concerts in Cleveland and Detroit. An afternoon concert at Kalamazoo’s Latvian Center is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Maira Bundža is the president of the Latvian Association. She said the Latvian community hopes the concert tour will reinforce U.S. commitment to the region.

“We're afraid that people are getting tired of listening to it and we need to keep reminding people that these people are still out there fighting this war day in and day out. And I think it'll be a great opportunity to actually meet people from the front lines.”

A concert poster with an orange background includes photos of the performers, who are all dressed in army fatigues and appear to be performing for other soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
Courtesy of Cultural Forces and Second Reformed Church
A concert poster for the evening concert on Sunday, June 9.

A second, evening performance is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Kalamazoo’s Second Reformed Church on Stadium Drive.

Mary Zwart is the church's vice-president. She said the musicians’ sacrifice inspired the congregation to host Sunday’s evening event.

“They have taken a leave of their musical jobs to fight in their country's army and they're fighting for freedom.”

Zwart said members of the congregation are also hosting some of the Ukrainians for the night.

The group will go to Detroit Monday. The tour ends in New York City on June 29.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.